State Surveillance in Kenya

State Surveillance in Kenya

Over last few months, Kenya has seen a rather devastating security crisis. In late 2014, at least 64 people were killed by Al Shabaab militants, which prompted members of the ruling Jubilee Coalition to introduce the omnibus bill known as the Security Laws (Amendment) Bill 2014. The bill was quickly enacted into law despite street protests and skirmishes inside the Kenyan Parliament.

According to President Uhuru Kenyatta, it notably curtails a number of constitutionally-protected rights, while at the same time consolidating law enforcement agencies’ power to enhance Kenya’s ability to detect, monitor and eliminate security threats. Specifically, it erodes the legal safeguards pertaining to interception of communications by police, increases the purposes for which surveillance may be undertaken and provides for broader powers for the as yet undefined “National Security Organs” to intercept communications.

The High Court struck down eight of the bill’s clauses, including language punishing the publication of contentious material, a decision that the government is currently appealing.

Coordinating emergency responses

A tender for a National Surveillance, Communication Command and Control System to coordinate emergency responses was awarded to Safaricom Ltd., during the summer of 2014. The network runs largely on Chinese telecommunications company Huawei’s infrastructure and is 60 percent government-owned. The system is to be completed in 2016 and is being billed as a secure way for law enforcement to communicate.

However, it also includes potentially worrisome surveillance capabilities, such as video surveillance which enables facial recognition and a centralized database to perform analytics and cross-referencing on the images captured. Expanded surveillance powers, diminished legal safeguards and sophisticated technologies have created a volatile situation in Kenya, greatly threatening the right to privacy and other human and legal rights.

The Communication Command and Control System is a way for police officers to securely communicate and process their responses to incidents, with various technical barriers to prevent the interception of law enforcement’s communications. The system will run on an independent 4G network, separate from the normal Safaricom network with 80 Base stations.

According to Safaricom, it will be a standalone, independent IP network capable of delivering high speed video, voice and data to a wide-ranging number of secure devices. The surveillance network consists of a number of different types of cameras to serve the needs of the National Police Service. Additional capabilities include geolocation through GPS of personnel in the field, an automatic vehicle location system and IP-based video surveillance on a proposed network for aiding visual surveillance for law and order, crime control and special events such as public gatherings or processions.

Potential misuses

It’s touted as a way for police to pick out criminals from the crowd with a simple camera image grab. However, without adequate safeguards, picking out criminals can quickly devolve into politically-motivated profiling. Facial recognition may facilitate religious or ethnic profiling and has, in certain situations, resulted in the false identification of innocent people. The potential for placing entire neighborhoods or communities under disproportionate surveillance reverses the presumption of innocence. In light of episodic roundups of Somali Kenyans, it is not a stretch to see that even this seemingly benign surveillance technology might be exploited beyond its legal mandate.

Currently, Kenyan’s right to privacy of home, person and property and communications is enshrined in Article 31 of the Constitution. The right to privacy in Kenya may be limited by statute under certain circumstances, however, the communication of persons under investigation can only be covertly intercepted through application of a warrant.

Yet the space for the expressions of political dissent that are essential to a functioning democracy is being further eroded. The Securities Laws (Amendment) Act 2014 removes the requirement to obtain a warrant prior to intercepting a digital communication. Section 65 of the Act would remove the requirement for the intelligence service to obtain a warrant to authorize interception and, by extension, any independent judicial review of the interceptions process. It would be entirely up to the intelligence services to determine how surveillance is carried out and on whose communications.


This article takes a look at privacy issues facing Kenyans in light of the recently introduced omnibus bill known as the Security Laws (Amendment) Bill 2014.

CIPP Exam Preparation                                      

In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional/Information Technology (CIPP/IT) exam, a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:

  • Network and data transport (I.A.b.iv.)
  • Implementing technologies with privacy impacts (VI.)

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